Overuse of country parks can be avoided

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 12:00am

Dr Andrew Chan's reported assertion ('Disney 'greener' than eco-tourism', South China Morning Post, November 8) that the Disney project will contribute to the protection of Hong Kong's country parks is perverse to say the least.

Yes, 'hundreds of millions' of people would be an environmental disaster if each one also went to the country parks. But this is not a realistic prospect and serves only to muddy the waters - and one wonders to what purpose.

The very large numbers of visitors are to be drawn by the Disney facility not the country parks. It is visitors to the Penny's Bay site and its immediate environs that may produce a considerable level of environmental impact. This is something entirely separate from the issue of possible overuse of country parks.

Furthermore, if some of these visitors also want to visit our country parks, then good - let them see that Hong Kong has the advantage of strikingly beautiful countryside adjacent to the highest population densities in the world.

Perhaps if the tourist interest were clear enough the Government would begin adding long overdue resources to the maintenance of the country parks, and hopefully expand them.

As for how to limit the damage which excessively large numbers of visitors would cause to the country parks, we have only to look at the many examples from around the world where governments have imposed fees and various restrictions on admission to popular natural areas, to keep usage levels within acceptable limits.

It is unfortunate that the Assistant Commissioner for Tourism, Joe Wong Chi-cho, feels compelled to come up with this rather convoluted argument that we should not be so concerned about the environmental effects of the Disney project because, after all, it is not as bad as something else which might be envisioned. The baseline is the environment as it is at present. We are not choosing between alternative projects.

Furthermore, for him to cite the example of the Mai Po Marshes (where visitor numbers and activities are already strictly regulated) only serves to cloud the issue.

Perhaps he would like to suggest ways in which the Disney site could be managed to minimise the damage there while encouraging visitors to also use the country parks under management systems which will ensure that visitor numbers do not exceed the parks' carrying capacity.

PETER HILLS WILLIAM BARRON The Centre of Urban Planning and Environmental Management The University of Hong Kong